Beating the next pandemic: What leaders in the pharma industry can do to prepare
Written by Vladimir Tkachenko, General Manager, Amaxa Pharma
While the Covid-19 pandemic is still some way from being declared over, there are finally some positive signs rising from the gloom: deaths and infection rates are coming down across Europe, and a UK team’s recent discovery of dexamethasone as a viable treatment for the sickest patients has been greeted with enthusiasm by the scientific community. Meanwhile, the global effort to develop a vaccine continues at a rapid pace.
As would be expected in a time like this, the pharmaceutical industry has been central in combating the threat posed by Covid-19, and will continue to play a leading role in the months to come. But what are the lessons leaders in the pharma industry can learn to ensure we can respond quickly and definitively to the next pandemic?
Novel virus, novel approaches
Covid-19’s status as a novel coronavirus has meant that those charged with coming up with effective treatments or a vaccine have had to start from scratch, while contending with the various restrictions brought about by global lockdowns. Combined with a growing sense of panic amongst the general public and the subsequent need to move at breakneck pace to reach a solution, it is fair to say times have been tough.
However, there have been a number of success stories that underline the vital work that the pharmaceutical industry does, and it is these that should serve as examples of how to approach the future.
Once the existence of Covid-19 was confirmed, the scientific community and pharmaceutical organisations have mobilised to come up with ways to protect against the virus at a speed never seen in our lifetimes. Teams around the world are working furiously to develop an effective vaccine, with promising results seen already.
The bottom line here is that speed and collaboration have been hugely beneficial in turning the tide against Covid-19, and will continue to be so in the ongoing battle. Any future pandemic will only be successfully beaten if pharmaceutical companies, experts, scientists and governments are willing to spring into action and work together for the common good.
Greater use of data analytics
Data mastery has become a core component of success in many walks of life. For a company in the retail sector, for example, unifying a range of disparate datasets and drawing insight from them can give an organisation that all-important competitive advantage. The situation is no different for the pharmaceutical industry: when it comes to identifying the right treatments and approaches in a future pandemic, data will play a leading role.
Of course, data already provides the basis for the treatment of many diseases. Before a new medicine is approved for use, huge amounts of data from clinical studies will be examined and compared, before a final decision is made.
However, there is more we can do to make data analytics processes sharper. When independent studies on a particular drug are carried out in one country, experts in other nations may be unaware that these studies exist if they do not have the ability to find and process vast amounts of data.
This is where emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning will make their mark. By automating data analytics and applying AI capabilities where possible, the management of large datasets becomes considerably easier, and insights can be drawn from this information much more readily.
Supply and demand
One of the unfortunate lessons learned from the current pandemic was that, at the beginning of the crisis, many nations and their health services were underprepared when it came to having the right equipment and infrastructure in place to respond quickly.
Logistically, the production of medicines is a major operation even outside of a pandemic. For example, a drug may be produced in India with raw materials developed in Japan, before being sent to a warehouse in Europe from which it is then distributed. This all needs to be carried out with the medicine’s short shelf life in mind.
To prevent these struggles from becoming a major issue in a future outbreak, pharmaceutical leaders need to be prepared to act quickly to scale up production of key resources – such as specialised testing kits and new medicines as soon as they are needed. Maintaining healthy stockpiles of established treatments is also key as there is always a possibility that an older medicine might be effective against a novel disease – as has been seen with dexamethasone.
Finally, the need for rapid action to tackle Covid-19 has underlined how increased flexibility and efficiency are the name of the game, both in terms of regulatory approval for new treatments, and logistical considerations that ensure that medicines can be manufactured and delivered in double-quick time.
The pharmaceutical industry, by necessity, is a heavily regulated one. While the challenges of the pandemic have created a need for regulatory processes to be expedited in many cases, lockdown restrictions have made it more difficult for this to be done efficiently. There are also inconsistencies across geographies in terms of if and how a state regulator will approve a particular treatment. For these problems to be ironed out, the pharma industry and the agencies responsible for regulation need to work more closely together to ensure responses can be better coordinated in future.
All in all, innovation, efficiency and collaboration are what will help the pharma industry get the better of the next pandemic. If leaders are willing to get on the front foot in terms of data analysis, proactive medicine production and close partnerships with regulators and governments, there is every chance they will be up to the challenge.